COMMUNITIES are being killed off by the coal industry and councils who have both failed to ensure that abandoned opencast mines are cleared up, residents are warning.
Campaigners claim almost a dozen mines across Scotland blight the landscape because pledges to return them to their natural state have been broken by Scottish Coal, which recently went into administration.
Concern has been growing that the commitment will never be met, and administrators claim they cannot afford to meet the cost of renovating the landscape – leaving swathes of the countryside scarred by piles of rocks, “hazardous” gaping holes filled with slurry and abandoned machinery.
The warning came as it was confirmed that energy and waste company Hargreaves Services – revealed last weekend as the frontrunner to take over the remaining operational Scottish Coal sites – is the preferred bidder for six opencast mines which were closed with the loss of hundreds of jobs earlier this year.
Among 11 sites formerly operated by Scottish Coal which communities and environmentalists say have not been properly restored are two in North Lanarkshire – Glentaggart and Dalquhandy.
Margaret Thompson, 55, of Glespin, whose family home overlooks the abandoned Glentaggart mine, branded much of the site a “wasteland” as she walked through the derelict mine which is strewn with mounds of stones and earth, muddy ponds and old tyres.
Mrs Thompson said: “Scottish Coal and the council were saying at the start that they would restore the site when it closed, and that the mine would bring jobs and they would set up a trust to benefit the village, which was really run down.
“But only a few people here got work at the mine because they brought people in. It was very difficult to get funding from the trust to do anything in the village and although they have done a good job of restoring the parts of the mine which we can see from here – after we put pressure on them to do that – the rest of the site is like a wasteland. It’s filled with massive holes and pools of grey slurry.
“If they restored these sites properly that could bring new jobs and all the villages here along the A70 could benefit from tourism too, but people are moving away and nobody wants to come here now because it’s a mess.
“The school is under threat too because there are so few pupils.”
She added: “They have flattened all these villages and got out of the clause [on restoration]. We know there is still coal here. I would like the council not to allow any further mining applications until existing sites have been restored.”
Neighbour and warehouse operative Tom Lawson, 64, whose house also overlooks Glentaggart, said: “They have done most of the site here that I can see but they haven’t even reinstated Dalquhandy [another Scottish Coal opencast site nearby]. It’s a bit of an eyesore.
“To me they should not be allowed to get another job [start any new opencast sites] until they have finished off the old ones properly.”
A few miles along the Douglas Valley residents in Coalburn live beside Dalquhandy, which was once the largest opencast mine in Europe.
The local authority insists the site has been properly reinstated, but local residents disagree.
One 56-year-old woman, who would not be named, said: “It’s killing off the village. Look at all the ‘for sale’ signs, people want to leave, but they can’t because no-one wants to come here.
“If they had done the restoration properly it could have helped to bring jobs here for people who lost them when the mines closed.”
Jimmy McBain, of Coalburn Community Council, was also critical as he looked out over a large water-filled hole on the Dalquhandy site.
He said: “This was the first opencast in the area and look at it. There’s no work here for people. We got a swimming pool [under funds for the village agreed when Scottish Coal received permission to establish the mine] but that’s about it.”
His wife Marion added: “They come and they take and then they go and the villages are left with not a lot to show for it other than a scarred landscape. Who knows how deep those holes filled with water are. They are an accident waiting to happen.”
Bill Prentice, planning officer for Coalburn Community Council, added: “Not a single right of way on the site has been finished, so it’s not accessible to everyone. This used to be moorland, they were supposed to restore it but they haven’t. There are still big holes which are now filled with water.”
South Lanarkshire Council said it was satisfied that Dalquhandy had been properly restored and it held a restoration bond for the remaining work which needed to be done at Glentaggart. Neither KPMG nor the Scottish Resources Group, parent company of Scottish Coal, would comment when approached by The Scotsman.
A Scottish Government spokesman said because each site was “unique” the Scottish Mines Restoration Trust would work with communities to find “bespoke solutions”.